12/28/2012 05:10 EST | Updated 02/26/2013 05:12 EST

Canadians Lack Trust In Some Scientists, Poll Suggests

closeup of a mad scientist...
A significant number of Canadians have trust issues with researchers in certain areas of science, including climate change, a new poll suggests.

An online survey of 1,000 people conducted by Nanos Research and released to CBC News asked respondents how much they trusted scientists quoted in the news on four scientific topics.

When it came to new energy technologies and medicines, a sizable majority of those surveyed said they trusted or somewhat trusted scientists. But respondents were less certain when it came to climate change and genetically modified crops.

The poll, conducted on Dec. 3 and 4, found that trust was highest on the issue of new energies (78 per cent trusted or somewhat trusted scientists) and that 71 per cent felt the same on the issue of medicines.

While nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) trusted or somewhat trusted scientists on the issue of climate change, a sizable number, nearly one-third (28 per cent), said they somewhat distrusted or distrusted researchers on that issue.

However, Canadians seemed to mistrust scientists the most on the issue of genetically modified crops, with nearly half (45 per cent) saying they trust researchers but 44 per cent saying they don't.

Government-sponsored scientists questioned

The survey also found that 42 per cent of Canadians believe that government-employed scientists should speak out on political issues that touch their area of expertise, while 32 per cent said they should stay out of politics. (Sixteen per cent were unsure.)

Gordon McBean, chair of the Canadian Climate Forum, and Andrew Weaver, a Canada research chair at the School of Earth and Ocean Science at the University of Victoria and B.C. Green Party candidate, said they're concerned about the role of government-sponsored scientists when it comes to climate change.

They said those scientists need the freedom to voice their findings, even if their research runs counter to current government policy. The Conservative government has been accused of muzzling scientists.

Weaver also expressed some frustration over the results of the survey in respect to those who still don't trust scientists when it comes to climate change research.

"The basic physics is as certain as you can get. The physics of global warming is basically the same as gravity, it's just basic physics," he said.

Some info confusing to consumers

McBean accused oil, coal and other special interest groups of having confused people with false information, while scientists have done a poor job fighting back.

"We need to have that kind of information better conveyed to Canadians so they make better informed decisions. I think Canadians are unfortunately not receiving the information they need on a whole range of issues."

Other findings of the poll included:

- One in two want spending on basic scientific research kept at the same levels.

- Research into medicines seen as the highest priority, research into genetically modified crops the lowest.

- Nearly half of Canadians believe research into climate change is a high priority.

The online survey was not assigned a margin of error because respondents were not randomly sampled.

The results were weighted using the latest Statistics Canada data to be representative of the opinions of Canadians, Nikita James Nanos, president and CEO of Nanos Research, said in an email.